Welcome to SKJ Travel ... my narrative blog where you can join me vicariously as I adventure around the world. In the archives you'll find posts from some of my travels ... these are very casual "letters to home" style accounts of what I did, with lots of photos. To read my formal articles, they're listed in each archive home page, or visit one of the blue buttons above: Articles/Guest Posts, Interviews, or Literary SKJ, or see the Travel Essays section (right side below archive -- mostly documentaries). Friday Photos are updated weekly, and Tuesday Tales are updated sporadically. You can follow SKJ Travel on social media at:
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please note that all photos in this article can be viewed larger by opening in a new tab (right-click)
Once again, there isn't much rhyme or reason to this collection of photos ... the only theme behind it is "Shara's favorites" taken while filming "The African Witchfinder" -- the same theme as Part 1. Faces that I love ... they're cute or beautiful or interesting, etc., or portray either a slice of typical life, or sometimes a unique or rare moment. How about we start with "cute."
This little sweetie is the daughter of one of Ndjinaa's caretakers. Just a little bundle of sunshine -- maybe the yellow dress adds to the "sun" impression, but she was joyful and quickly became a little ham once Susanne took off her hat and gave it to her to wear and pose in. I posted the pic of her in the hat on Facebook and one of the comments was that she surely thought she looked beautiful, wearing the foreigner's hat. That makes her darling pose all the more precious when you think about her feeling that way.
Susanne's hat was pretty popular in the village, and circulated around a few kids before she got it back. This is Ndjinaa's grandson, Tjihenguva, wearing it now. (he happens to be watching the stick fight involving Berrie in this photo)
I guess I find the young girls more captivating to photograph than the boys because of their hairstyles, which I am very fond of -- the two braids down the front of their face. I wonder if that hairdo would look good on me?? Hmmmm. Of course I don't have any red mud around here to pack them with. But here are a few captures I like of the boys. The first one is Tjihenguva again. He's the only person I ever saw with that particular hairstyle of two braids hanging down the back of his head. Most of the traditional Himba boys and men wear the one big braid, as the boy in front in the second pic.
I like this capture below for a couple reasons -- one is the pensive pose and expression of the boy sitting in the doorway, the other is the glimpse into the hut behind him of people just "being people," so to speak, doing their own thing and not conscious of cameras.
I have fewer pictures of men largely because there are not usually as many of them hanging around the kraal, which is where we conducted interviews and where photographers who bargain with the chief to photograph them do so (like my guide did two years earlier). But I found a few sitting outside this day. I wandered around more on my own while the film crew was doing things like setting up the interview spots (arranging chairs under trees), talking with Berrie and our translator, Juanine.
The first man has a cap for his one big braid, which many men have, although more commonly it fits only onto the braided part, as in the second photo. If you look closely at these two men (especially the second), you can also just make out another signature trait of the Himba, which is the removal of several bottom front teeth. This is a sign of beauty for them. Which is funny to me because in America if a person is missing their front teeth, we tend to find it rather unattractive (perhaps because here it typically indicates poor health or hygiene). Yet there, they go through excruciating pain to knock out their permanent teeth for the sake of beauty. The third man has his own unique hairstyle and quite the winning smile.
I like this capture of a Kavango man in the Caprivi Strip sitting on the bench outside a compound, though you might agree with me that the traditional Himba are more compelling to photograph with their interesting hairstyles, their copious jewelry and ancient wardrobe of loincloths and cowhides.
Although I think the Himba are so photogenic -- exquisite and exotic, gorgeous and unique -- one thing about them is a much smaller ranger of color than the rest of the Namibian people. Perhaps just because they have so much more bare skin, all the same color, and black or red mud-packed hair, and their cowhide skirts are brown, too. But even their loincloths seldom have the bright color of fabrics worn by other Namibians. Maybe they're just plain dirty, haha, I don't know. Without washing machines, you know. But it's always so cheery to see a refreshing patch of color.
This lady is cheerfully clothed, but I'll be honest, she kinda freaks me out. Just a little. With what I presume is one missing eye, the other one seems particularly penetrating. And the smile with a missing tooth which looks very different between the left and right side. But she is an important lady in the area, she oversees a lot of local tribal court cases ... which, incidentally, are usually negotiated and sentenced underneath a mopani tree -- that being true of all village matters in this region. She and the man above in the blue shirt were both sitting outside her compound waiting for rides (and we ended up being the people to give her a lift). While Berrie was talking with her and some other people, a pickup truck came driving up and stopped where we were all gathered. I looked in the back of the truck and there was a whole skinned goat in there, head and everything. A tad creepy.
The primary splash of color among the Himba is their jewelry, which I quite admire. Even though the copper is not colorful, I really like the stacks of copper rings the women wear on their arms and ankles. They're so shiny! haha. Because bright colors are few and far between, all it takes is one bracelet or one bead to really pop out.
Switching gears over to the little Himba tykes in the kraal of Chief Kapika, this kid cracks me up with his gestures and expressions. He looks like such a little man -- so serious, pondering life's deepest questions (or maybe he's just mesmerized by the shiny copper), and looking like an accomplished orator, preparing his lectures or impassioned speeches.
Talking with the Himba adults sometimes is a little intimidating because it's hard to tell if they're paying any attention to you. When you ask a question, they have a way of listening and pondering with their eyes closed that worries you into thinking they've fallen asleep or into private reverie. Then suddenly they answer, but you often feel neglected. It makes them more opaque than the average person ... because it's very hard to discern what's going on behind those closed eyes and placid face ... I don't know if they are transparent to one another and just not to me (or any of us Westerners), or if even between themselves they are a mystery.
In contrast, this dear woman in the Kavango region, near the Caprivi Strip, wore her heart on her sleeve. Read a little more about her unfortunate circumstance in "The Peace in Human Touch." How is this not one of the best smiles on the whole planet?
She and her granddaughter listening to Berrie talk, scolding the granddaughter for accusing her grandmother of witchcraft.
Oh, but I got detracted from the kids! Well let's end part 2 of this Faces of Namibia series with a couple of my super favorite kid pics. (I foresee one more installment to this, but probably not until 2017) I posted a similar profile of the bottom girl in the last post, this one's a tad different and a tad more preferred. One thing I'm very curious of, and should I have the privilege of visiting the Himba again, I want to feel the weight of their necklaces. They look burdensomely (sure, it's a word) heavy. But I don't know what they're made out of; it could be light material? Or not? I suppose the almighty Google could tell me, but why ruin the hope that I'll feel it myself someday to figure it out? :)
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Above, the film crew of "The African Witchfinder" and I are reflected in the eyes of a toddler in the Kavango.
"If this is Part 1, how many parts will there be?" you wonder. But I don't know the answer to that! There are a lot of people shots from this trip that I'm quite fond of that don't really have a home in any of the articles about witchcraft, and so like the Roadside Views post, I'm just collecting a bunch into a "Faces of Namibia" series in order to share them. (some have been featured as a Friday Photo) However, I haven't found any real themes to select them by. So if you are looking for some reason why these particular photos are together in this particular post, there is none. The theme of this photo essay (and subsequent parts) is simply, "Shara's favorites." As I'm leaving soon for Antarctica, it may be some time before the other parts appear here, but they will come!
So where to begin? Or rather, who to begin with? Well, for absolutely no particular reason, we'll start here, in the Kunene region of Kaokoland, Namibia. A Himba girl and two of her boy mates. The girls traditionally wear two braids that hang down the front of their face. This girl was always chewing on a string whenever I saw her. I eventually realized that she has it tied to her necklace, so it is always available!
She seemed a very kind soul. I saw her always playing with young children and toddlers or else leading around a blind man with a stick. In the relatively slow-paced life of the traditional Himba, people have the time to look after one another. I love the picture below of the three of them. To me, it looks like they're about to start out on a grand adventure, three companions.
The blind man wasn't ostracized in any way for his incapacity. There were always children playing around him, sitting in his lap and leading him so he could be where other people were gathered. I think he has a stunning, wonderful face. He must still be able to see basic shapes and figures through his cataracts, for he knew I was there and taking his picture.
Here's a closer look at the traditional hairstyle of adolescent Himba girls with two profiles.
And eventually they will wear a head full of red mud-packed braids when they are young women, displayed for us here by Princess Kaviruru bent over working on her mother's hair.
And then when the girls are married, they will design their own head piece such as this one below, sported by a young woman just recently married. (In the photo above, Uvuzerwa, the princess's mother, has her headpiece pushed back so her daughter can work on her hair line.) I think this must surely be something that girls dream about their whole lives, sketching the stiff cowhide head pieces in their mind, similar to American girls dreaming about their wedding dress, envisioning what it will look like.
Of course, children are always the most fun to watch and train a camera on. One thing I've come to realize about myself, through this trip especially, is that I'm not really a portrait photographer. Maybe you could even say I'm not really a photographer, but a documenter. My photos aren't necessarily hang-on-the-wall pictures, but simply slices of the life and scenery I see around me. When I take a picture, I'm not thinking about how it will look as a final product, I'm thinking how sharing it will inform somebody else or entertain them, give them a glimpse into the world that I see. For that reason, I seldom corral people in front my lens, I seldom ask them to look at me and smile. Occasionally, sure, but mostly I sit with my finger on the shutter button and wait to see who or what comes to me. I let people make their own expressions and gestures, arrange themselves if they're in a group. Sometimes I sit as if I were part of the landscape, like just another tree, so that people forget about me, forget I'm there and do their own thing.
These two toddlers in particular amused me endlessly. They were pals. Of course the traditional Himba here in Kaokoland have no iPads, iPods or iPhones, no talking toys with battery-powered flashing lights and bells, no stuffed animals or Barbie dolls, yet they are never bored. They have fingers and toes, sticks and stones, and the entire natural world around them. And of course, the number one favorite toy across the globe for both people and cats ... cardboard boxes!!
Here's a more colorful gang of kids from the Caprivi Strip region, near Divundu. The first day I met them, they weren't entirely sure what to do in front of a camera lens. Unlike the traditional Himba in the Kaokoland area who are used to tourists passing through and taking their photos, these kids were just kids in a courtyard of some people we were interviewing for "The African Witchfinder." They certainly had never had white people peering at them through a camera lens. They caught on quickly what to do ... smile! It's pretty cute that the kid on the far left of both pics is wearing the same shirt each day, but the second day, he's wearing it turned inside out and backward.
Some more shy kids, perfectly adorable in their shyness.
This duo is a mix. The girl in blue almost pretty sure that she wants to smile, while her pink mate has all the charm of a natural model.
I'm madly fond of this little girl in her sweet red dress -- her coy smile and kind of peculiar hairstyle ... not sure if it's simply unkempt or if there is some design behind it.
Not shy or coy, I can't put my finger on it, but somehow just a wee bit wary ... like perhaps he's not quite sure whether or not something's is going to jump out of the camera.
This kid's got my number. And everyone else's! "Yo, come back for more photos soon!" haha. So I guess I will end as randomly as I began. I think this makes a good batch of faces for Part 1. :)
Welcome to Part 2 of safari through the Nxai Pan national game reserve in Botswana. Get your safari shirts on, and let's get up in the pre-dawn to see what's out there! You won't need binoculars for this one. ;) All pics in this post can be viewed larger by right-clicking on them to open in a new tab.
So in Part 1, I shared mostly photos of lone animals we encountered. (we = me and my guide, Jane, of Ulinda Safari Trails) This time I'll present mostly groups of animals. Nearly all our elephant sightings were of lone bulls, and most of them were in musth at the time (full of hormones for the ladies, often extra aggressive, easily visible by leakage from glands on their temples -- you can see their skin is wet, like these glands are crying). But our first day, we did see this trio at one of the water holes. A drinking force! But the one guy must have scored some particularly delicious water, as his companions seemed eager to get in on his trunkful!
A few more waterhole elephants ... I just never tire of watching them interact with their environment. Using their trunks and feet and floppy ears .....
Here's something I hadn't quite seen before. These are the creatures that thrive on elephant poo: dung beetles. Sure, I've seen them rolling their dung balls all over Africa, but I usually see just one at a time cruising around on his peculiar mission (and they cruise at a remarkable speed pushing their balls along). This was the first time I'd ever seen a whole party of beetles swarming and digging through a huge pile of dung. This reminds me, when I participated in the Walking With African Wildlife census project, my friend and fellow volunteer, Conrad, said one day, "It should be called Walking Through African Poop." Or something along those lines ... because between the huge piles left by elephants and rhinos, and the copious animals in zebra, wildebeest and antelope herds, the ground really is covered in animal excrement. You can see why it is a dung beetle's paradise.
But on to some larger, less Juraissac creatures. Although, only a step further in time comes the explosion of our feathered friends. And ostriches do look like one of the more prehistoric specimens, walking around on such tall legs, not even bothering to fly. I have yet to score a guinely good photo of an ostrich. I can never get them in crisp focus, not sure why. But here are a couple hanging out near a waterhole whose behavior was amusing me. In the first pic, the male seems to be having some choice words with the female. And in the second pic, it looks as though the female has just given up in exasperation.
My first morning in the park, setting out before dawn, as is usual for game drives, we came across a pride of 13 lions sleeping near the road, with several of them sleeping smack-dab in the middle of it. We stopped and watched them for about 45 minutes even though they weren't particularly spritely, it was still awesome to me to watch even their slightest interactions, for I've witnessed very little of this in the wild. As I said in Circling the Nxai Pan Part 1, there were few other people in the small park, so even though this was pretty much the highlight going on, there were only half-a-handful of other vehicles watching them with us. One of them was a fellow from BBC who had been stationed there in the Nxai Pan for 6 months to film the big cats in the park. Lucky him, he had a special permit he could drive off the roads wherever he pleased. However, in this case, no off-road necessary! The accommodating lions came right to us.
Something of interest at the perimeter! This intrepid young one heads out to check it out. He has a lot of growing to do, judging by the size of his big, floppy paws!
This little guy was so adorable, the most sociable of the pride, at least on this morning, jonesing for some love and play time. He went up to each lion in the pride one by one and nudged their head with his. Then sometimes he pawed at the other lion and tried to get it to play with him. A couple young ones complied and they tussled about for a bit. But what was most adorable was just the affection you can see between the lions, just as clearly as you can see it between humans.
Here's a little lion with a great big roar! Or, well, maybe it was just a yawn. In any case ... he's growing a nice set of canines!
Someday he will be a big boy watching the sunsets all alone. I don't know if that's sad or not. It's nice to see the lions grow up, but then the males are so often alone. Well, this majestic fellow looks like he's having a pleasant enough evening all by his lonesome, watching the sun set in the Nxai Pan.
So off we went to dinner and bed as well. The following morning, we got up pre-dawn for the morning game drive, and it turned out to be one of the most magical mornings I've ever experienced. It was on account of the perfect lighting and still water at this waterhole where a herd of zebra were gathered around. We tried to repeat the experience the next morning, but it wasn't even close. This morning all the right ingredients came together to make a stunning pink light in the air with a dark blue, brooding horizon, and the water in the hole was perfectly still, casting beautifully-rendered reflections. It got a little chaotic at times with all the stripes both on land and on water.
And this below is perhaps my very favorite capture from my time in Botswana. A profoundly magical morning.
When we went back the next morning in hopes of finding another dream at the waterhole, not only was the light flat and the sky and water gray, but there weren't very many zebras near the water. They were clearly very spooked over something. They kept their distance from the water, then occasionally a few would step in briefly to drink and then run back, all skittish. We presumed there had recently been a predator there, provoking their caution. And eventully we saw the clear evidence that our theory was correct, as we could see a horrendous, fresh gash in the hind quarters of one of the zebras. I guess he's lucky he got away, but I imagine that wound stings a bit.
The zebras were entertaining to watch, as the males would abruptly get all rambunctious and nippy, and start little scuffles that most of the time were over before I could get my eye to my camera. This is probably the best action shot I managed, with the back end of an elephant in the audience in front of me.
This time I got the front end of an elephant framed by zebras on the sides. :)
And some deceptive zebra love ... it looks like they're all friendly and I just presumed that if they're touching their muzzles together, it must be out of affection. But then in the blink of an eye, two affectionate muzzles would be biting each other and whining, and then the zebras would start kicking and bucking, and I'd get all excited and get my eye to the camera, which was their cue to settle down again and be temporary friends!
And now may I have a drumroll, please. ............ Thank you. There was one animal in particular that I had particularly high hopes of seeing. I have seen them in the wild before, in South Africa and Namibia, but they were either brief or very far away. Cheetahs are my favorite of the big cats, and I was just really keen on seeing some close-up. From the descriptions of the Nxai Pan in the rainy season, it seemed not completely unreasonable to carry this hope. However, by the end of our safari time there, we had not seen any. We had packed up and were heading out to Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Neither Jane nor I was in "safari mode" with eyes peeled for wildlife. We were nearly at the park's gate. I was playing back in my head all the marvelous animals I had seen, comforting myself that the lack of cheetahs had not spoiled or lessened the safari in any way. Then Victor yelled out, "Cheetah! Cheetah!"
"What? Where?" I bolted upright in my seat and began looking around frantically. I presumed he had spotted one far off on the plains, and I was scrambling to find binoculars. "Where? Where?"
"Right there!" Victor said, sounding incredulous that I couldn't spot them. But neither had Jane.
"Right where?" I was desperate.
"Right THERE!" and then the other staff gasped. "To your left!"
There were two cheetahs to our left (my side of the vehicle), most likely brothers. And if I'd looked at them with binoculars, all I would have seen would have been a whisker or two. They really were right there. In the shade of some trees and bushes finishing up some springbok, blood still on their mouths. The springbok was not there; they must have drug some of the meat off from the kill into the shade. I squealed like a pig, I was beside myself with joy and excitement.
We stayed for nearly 30 minutes watching them. As we finally pulled away, my eyes literally began welling up with tears, I was so damn happy.
So a week of safari in the Kalahari region was stellar; I enjoyed every minute of it, even if those minutes weren't packed with the numbers of animals one might see in other game reserves and national parks. But there was one little episode that was highly unpleasant and could have been and should have been worse. I didn't deserve to be as lucky as I was ... near disaster for a vain photo of myself with my two cameras and new lenses. About a minute after this picture, the camera on the left with my 150-600 lens fell onto the ground.
If you can believe it, the only damage was to the battery door on the camera. I had a large hood on the lens, and the ground had some give, being the rainy season where it had some moisture in it. The camera continued to work for another couple days. But then the battery door was too loose, it couldn't maintain contact with the batteries. So I only had one working camera for my whole trip in Namibia (where I traveled to after Botswana), but at least I had one! Can't wait to come back to Botswana next year!